Mark Mallman’s forthcoming record, “The End Is Not The End,” was inspired by the sort of fear, loathing and loss that happens to most homo sapiens as time marches on. But recent life lessons came as a crash course to Mallman, who purposefully pushed himself to make positive music after the death of his mother last year, a seismic event that found the Twin Cities-based rocker ruminating on the artist’s role and life’s big questions.
“What’s the karmic responsibility of a songwriter? If Kurt Cobain had written some happy songs, would he have killed himself?” said Mallman recently, nursing a cup of hot tea at a Minneapolis coffee shop. “You live with your [bleep]ing songs. They become mantras, unintentionally.
“You can know something, you can preach something, you can practice something, you can talk in your life about darkness and nihilism and the glory of Sartre and the amazing films of Ingmar and Ingrid Bergman, but then once it becomes your life, you want something else, something not so [ruminative] and throw [bleep]ing Bob Marley on in the morning.”
Described as “a deliberate meditation on overcoming the roots of despair,” “The End Is Not The End” drops March 25 on Polkadot Mayhem Records, and while it’s a beautiful blast, that’s not what it started out as. In the summer of 2014, Mallman recorded “Nightmares,” a collection of “nihilist dance tracks” inspired by his visits to DJ Jake Rudh’s transformative “Transmission” dance nights, David Bowie’s classic 1980 album “Scary Monsters,” and a wicked personal bout with anxiety, paranoia and depression.
“Every time I put ‘Nightmares’ on, I would get panic attacks,” he said. “When I was sickest, I was scared of the Vikings stadium. I couldn’t drive past it. Everything was getting to me, and I changed everything about my life. I started going to the gym, sometimes twice a day, and started checking out all sorts of stuff, from Western medicine to Himalayan salt lamps. And I threw out [‘Nightmares’] and changed a lot of songs because I knew I was going to have to be singing them.
“I do believe a song is a mantra. A great example is at a wedding: A couple chooses a song that’s always positive, and symbolic. It’s a powerful moment. If you’re going to accept that a song has the power to bring people and family together, and to represent a union between two loving souls, then you have to accept the responsibility for a killing or the thought of abusing someone. A track can initiate dark thoughts in people, and I’ve created dark-ass music, but we’re all responsible for how much joy we put out.”
To that end, over the course of 12 tracks, “The End Is Not The End” bursts with positive – albeit never syrupy – vibrations in the face of the fragile human condition, mortality and cynical times. “I’m desperate to feel something, to feel something real,” sings Mallman on the opening track, “Hologram Jesus,” a sizzling rock anthem whose glittery savior reminds, “Don’t mistake sarcasm for positivity because nobody ever lets go, everything begins again.”
That theme of life after death and constant rebirth down here on earth is affirmed throughout the entirety of “The End Is Not The End,” which all but promises we’ll see our gone-but-not-forgotten loved ones again. Along with the title track and the first single, “Monster Movies,” the record’s highlights include “Hole in the Night,” which chronicles a comforting visitation from the singer’s mother from another plane; “Let It Shine,” which sounds eerily like an extra track from Bowie’s swan song “Blackstar,” and the, yes, positively infectious “It’s Good to Be Alive,” a feel-good manifesto for all times penned by that dude you may have seen walking around town with “The End Is Not The End” emblazoned on the back of his leather jacket.
“For the Kickstarter video, I wrote it on the back of my leather jacket, and I haven’t had enough money to get a new leather jacket, so I’ve just been wearing it,” he laughed. “It’s so cool, because that message is behind me all the time, and it’s a vague message, and it’s a positive message made of completely negative words. But everyone has their own interpretation, and this old lady, probably 70, came up to me at the gym and said, ‘I like what it says on your jacket,’ and gave me the thumbs-up. And I could tell … I bet her husband died and she had to face this idea that, ‘OK, I get it now. I’m ready to believe, because I want to see that person again.’ ”
After 20 years of rocking stages all over the country, Mallman begins the campaign for “The End Is Not The End” this month at showcases at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, and at his CD release party at the Icehouse in Minneapolis March 25 and 26.
What’s more, with any luck, another installment of Mallman’s infamous marathon is sure to rear its head someday soon as he continues to tap into the great beyond for inspiration.
“I don’t know of a lot of records that are about the afterlife that aren’t Christian records,” he said. “No disrespect to Christian artists, but I wanted to write a song that specifically addresses that the end is not the end. Because sometimes you feel like it’s over, and that’s not a good place. But then you call your dad or your brother and they say, ‘It’ll get better.’ And if you can have a song that you can put on that does that, that says, ‘It’ll be OK,’ that could just flip enough switches, you know?
“I’ve done musicology research on [the origins of] music. From what I’ve read, it started as a way to communicate danger and ‘We just got some food and we’re bringing it back to camp.’ The other one is spiritual ritual, and that’s what the marathons are for me. It’s not heady. It’s a down-to-earth fun experience. That’s why I was drawn to music. So the root of music comes from rituals — sun gods and all that stuff.”
I suggest to Mallman that he’s been through a lot of troubling times in the last couple years and because “The End Is Not The End” is the beautiful result, he’s like the Egyptian dung beetle — a creature that makes fun and beauty out of crap.
“I love Metallica, and there’s darkness to that but it’s not like an Elliot Smith truthful element of darkness,” he said. “I won’t listen to Elliot Smith. I won’t allow it on my record player because I feel like there’s a negativity that permeates the room, for me, being so susceptible to music. But Metallica feels like a roller-coaster ride: We’re gonna party … with the lights off.
“And I hope this record delivers that. I’ve gotten messages from people that say, ‘I was depressed and I put your record on.’ There’s a lot of people who have complex minds and we can’t just put on ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ all the time, but we can’t listen to Joy Division all the time, either. So I tried to make a record that could maybe relate on a goth level to ideas of the afterlife, in a positive way but still funny-cool. Which I know that I did.
“This is high quality gourmet [stuff], and I think there are a lot of people who need to hear this record. But no matter what, I’m happy I live in a city where people respect me and they come up to me and say, ‘You’re a legend.’ And I’m like, ‘Wow. I wish you’d tell me that when I’m staring into the emptiness of my house at night.’ ”